Charles Landers, former Anchorage assemblyman and unlicensed engineer for Constructing
Engineers, was found guilty of forging partner Henry Wilsons signature and using his
professional seal on at least 40 documents. The falsification of the documents was done
without Wilsons knowledge, who was away from his office when they were signed.
Constructing Engineers designs and test septic systems. The signed and sealed documents
certified to the Anchorage city health department that local septic systems met city
wastewater disposal regulations. Circuit Judge Michael Wolverton banned Landers for one
year from practicing as an engineers, architects, or land surveyors
assistant. He also sentenced him to 20 days in jail, 160 hours of community service, $4000
in fines, and a year of probation. Finally, Landers was ordered to inform property owners
about the problems with the documents, explain how he would rectify the problem, and pay
for a professional engineer to review, sign, and seal the documents.
Assistant Attorney General Dan Cooper had requested the maximum penalty: a four-year
suspended sentence and $40,000 in fines. Cooper argued that "the 40 repeated
incidents make his offense the most serious within the misuse of an engineers
seal." This may have been the first time a case like this was litigated in Alaska.
The Attorney Generals office took on the case after seeking advice from several
professional engineers in the Anchorage area.
According to Cooper, Landers said he signed and sealed the documents because "his
clients needed something done right away." (The documents were needed before going
ahead with property transactions.) Landers attorney, Bill Oberly, argued that his
client should be sentenced as a least offender since public health and safety werent
really jeopardized--subsequent review of the documents by a professional engineer found no
violations of standards (other than forgery and the misuse of the seal themselves). The
documents were resubmitted without needing changes.
However, Judge Wolverton contended that Landers actions constituted a serious
breach of public trust. The public, he said, relies on the word of those, like
professional engineers, who are entrusted with special responsibilities: "Our system
would break down completely if the word of individuals could not be relied upon."
The judge also cited a letter from Richard Armstrong, chairman of the Architects,
Engineers, and Land Surveyors Board of Registration for Alaskas Department of
commerce and Economic Development. Armstrong said:
Some of the reasons for requiring professional engineers to seal their work are to
protect the public from unqualified practitioners; to assure some minimum level of
competency in the profession; to make practicing architects, engineers, and land surveyors
responsible for their work; and to promote a level of ethics in the profession. The
discovery of this case will cast a shadow of doubt on other engineering designed by
properly licensed individuals.
- Identify and discuss the ethically important elements in this case.
- How relevant is it that subsequent review showed that none of the falsified documents
needed to be changed? (Although Judge Wolverton did not impose the maximum penalty, he did
not treat Landers as a least offender.)